Lifelong Learning.

I wrote this blog for Professor Keith Quesenberry‘s class at Johns Hopkins University titled “Blogging and Online Copywriting.”
Overall, I had a positive experience with blogging. Below is an infographic covering my blogging process and what I learned throughout it.
Thank you for being a part of the process!



Why Laptops Are Gathering Dust in Developing Countries

“Everybody agrees that whatever the solutions are to the big problems, they … can never be without some element of education.” –Nicholas Negroponte


Monica Rex

Students in Bhutan using OLPC laptops.



Nicholas Negroponte is not only the founder of the MIT Media Lab who doubles as an investor, inventor, and extreme thinker, but he is also the founder of the One Laptop per Child program. The program’s mission is to “empower the world’s poorest children through education” by providing “each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.”

Negroponte dreamed big. His goal was to put $1oo laptops in the hands of underprivileged children in order to perk their curiosity and promote education. And he succeeded, in part. Over 2.5 million children in Latin American and Africa have laptops that cost roughly $200, double the goal. So, how did he make a $200 laptop and more importantly, why haven’t you heard about the 2.5 million he distributed?


The Computer

Building a computer for $200 is no small feat. This realization was achieved through:

  • Lowering cost display
    • Turning down background lighting to preserve energy
    • Black and white option
  • Huge bulk orders


XO Laptop distributed through One Laptop Per Child. Photo credit to Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

XO Laptop distributed through One Laptop Per Child. Photo credit to Scott Beale / Laughing Squid


  • Durability
  • Weather conditions
  • High heat and humidity
  • Easy repair
  • Local language


Learning: Why Wasn’t OLPC a Hit?

Goal setting

How can you reach a goal if you don’t set one?

1. No clear goals. It seems like Negroponte simply loved the idea of providing kids with knowledge at their fingertips. And that is great. But what was his goal? Was he trying to improve test scores? (That didn’t work.) Did he want the next Google programmers to come out of Africa? The project lacked a clear means of measuring success and thus a clear focus.

2. No customization. Yunus had some words of wisdom. Culture matters! For example, the music app did not allow students to produce beats that matched some of the local traditional music, so they just stopped trying.
3. Lack of training. Apparently, only 70% of teachers had a mere 40 hours of training before laptops were distributed to their students. Teachers take years to learn how they teach best; trying to retrain an old dog (no offense teachers) in 40 hours is quite ambitious.
4. Misunderstanding of the target audience. OLPC wanted to lower costs, so (as mentioned above) they sold in bulk. They initially wanted orders to be a minimum of 1 million laptops. For a developing country, that’s an investment of around $200 million for a product they don’t know will be successful.


Not Done Yet

Education is the way to go. Forge on, Negroponte. Courtesy of Pratham Books.

Education is the way to go. Forge on, Negroponte.
Courtesy of Pratham Books.

Did Negroponte fail to leave the legacy through OLPC that he had envisioned? Yes, I think so. Is he done yet? Absolutely not.

I admire Negroponte. He has a huge heart. He dreamed big about helping underprivileged children discover education and technology. He took it to heart when a child in Nigeria said he “valued his laptop more than his life.” He envisioned a world where education opened doors. Education is essential to any progress.

I will learn from Negroponte’s past projects and cheer him on to his future endeavors. (Yes, he has kept tweaking the laptop and now is distributing $100 tablets.)

After all, “Cynicism is easy. Hope is harder.”


What do you think? Was OLPC a failure?


What is Engineering?

When I tell people that I’m studying biomedical engineering, their first reaction is usually, “What is biomedical engineering?”

I usually describe it as the application of engineering principles. So what exactly is engineering?

I decided to ask some Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering students their opinions on engineering. This was fun for me to do, and I’m excited to share with you what everyone said.

Engineering is…

JHU what is engineering

“solving problems with math and stuff”

JHU what is engineering

“problem solving”

"more math than I thought..."

“more math than I thought…”

Badoi Phan JHU what is engineering

“speaking another language I don’t understand”

JHU what is engineering

“constructional perception”

JHU what is engineering

“Implementation of your dream”


JHU what is engineering

“FUN! :)”

Ariana Cruz JHU what is engineering

“solving other people’s complex problems XD”

Nate Palmquist JHU what is engineering


JHU what is engineering

found after I had left my whiteboard on a seat in the quad…

Andrew Brenner JHU what is engineering


what is engineering


what is engineering

“building things”

Howard what is engineering?

Life = alpha * progress

Matthew Kerr what is engineering?

“The application of basic science





























What do YOU think? What is engineering?

The Promised Land

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Foreign Affairs Symposium Anne Smedinghoff Award

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear from Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the president and co-founder of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan, which is Afghanistan’s first boarding school for women. Ms. Basij-Rasikh was presented with the Inaugural Anne Smedinghoff Award by the family of Anne Smedinghoff through the Foreign Affairs Symposium, which will be presented to an individual who is committed to education, development and global harmony.

Anne: Scholar, Diplomat, Friend

Anne Smedinghoff, who graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2009 with a degree in International Studies and served an Executive Director of the Foreign Affairs Symposium, was killed on April 6, 2013 by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, on her way to deliver books to a local school. From the words that were said last night, I think I would have wanted to be Anne’s friend. She was an adventurer, a servant, a hard worker, and perhaps, most importantly, a good friend. In her honor, the Foreign Affairs Symposium has created the Annual Anne Smedinghoff Award and has established the Anne Smedinghoff Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will go to a student who wishes to follow in Anne’s career path of foreign service.

How much is an education worth?

  I encourage you to check out Ms. Basij-Rasikh’s Ted Talk to learn more about how she risked her life to go to school or about how she started a school for Aghanistan women as a sophomore in college or how she has helped her students win over $10 million in scholarships. Oh, and by the way, she’s 24.

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With poise, she spoke about how, contrary to popular belief, the people of Afghanistan love Americans and that technology and conditions have been progressively been getting better.

Moral Responsibility

One note that Ms. Basij-Rasikh focused on was that we have a moral responsibility to use our education in a way that helps others. How true. How refreshing. How forgotten. We are blessed. If you are in the small minority of 6.7% of individuals hold a college degree, you are extremely blessed. And you are extremely obligated. There is a weight that comes with privilege.

college degrees worldwide, Nelson Mandela, monica rex

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela

When I asked Ms. Basij-Rasikh about what we—as college students—could do, she spoke about getting involved in the SOLA’s Skype mentoring program. For instance, one of the girls wants to be a businesswoman; her mentor works for a hedgefund. Ms. Basij-Rasikh mentioned that one of the girls wanted to become an engineer.


In the following reception, I asked Ms. Basij-Rasikh if there were engineering opportunities in Afghanistan. She replied, “Afghanistan is like a blank slate. It would be your promised land. There are so many problems.”


Needless to say, I am inspired. Inspired by the bravery and sacrifice of Anne and the passion and grace of Ms. Basij-Rasikh. I am not content to watch others suffer when I have the skills to do something about it. And you shouldn’t be either.

The Key to Development

During Intersession, while many Hopkins students were sleeping and eating at home or taking classes at Hopkins, Yunuscan Sevimli, Sakina Girnary, and Makesi Paul were halfway across the world, asking questions, exploring a new culture, and engineering life-changing devices. I got the chance to catch up with Yunus to hear about his travels and what he learned.

keys monica rex

“The key to development is human interaction.”

Monica: Give me some background: who are your partners for this project and how is it being funded?

Yunus: We are working through Global Engineering Innovations within the Institute of NanoBiotechnology at Hopkins. GEI’s goal is to determine a need, develop solutions, and carry out those solutions in developing countries. There is a large focus on the implementation aspect of the project. GEI has also sent Hopkins students to Tanzania and Brazil. Our advisor, Dr. Elisseeff, connected us with Kopernik, an international NGO headquartered in Indonesia that aims to create technologies and give them to people who need them most.


Monica: What was your goal going into Indonesia?

Yunus: Our specific goal was to initiate contact between Hopkins and Kopernik. Next, we wanted to learn the culture so that we could figure out any problems and come up with solutions. Oh, and obviously, to learn as students.


M: Let’s dive right in. What is your project?

Y: We visited two target villages in East Java and both of them were very different regarding their income. In Bojonegoro, the biggest problem was rice processing. The process was very inefficient, and throughout the process, they would cut themselves and would experience respiratory problems. We essentially combined some of the normal processes into one machine that would do all of it.

In Tuban, a coastal village, the main source of income is fishing. But there was no technology to store fish (no refrigerators), so they would dry the fish. This created a lot of sanitation concerns and became a problem because it rains all the time there. We created a solar furnace to dry the fish.


fishing indonesia fish monica rex

A fisherman in Indonesia.

M: How important is it to understand the culture throughout the engineering process?

Y: If you’re trying to make a difference, you should start with the culture. Start with them. You should listen to them completely objectively without any assumptions. That’s really important.

We spent most of our time interviewing people and households. We went into Indonesia knowing they may have “these problems,” but we weren’t sure until we actually talked to them. For instance, we thought/ were told that corn harvesting was a bigger deal but when we went there, we heard that rice harvesting was actually a bigger deal.


M: What was your biggest takeaway from your field experience in Indonesia?

Y: Culturally, I would personally call myself open minded, and I have traveled abroad a lot.* But Southeast Asia is really different. Being there made me realize that I actually know nothing and how much there actually is to learn.

Technically, we had to work with local materials like bamboo, and it was a challenge. If we were doing the same thing here at Hopkins we would go to the machine shop and measure precisely, but that’s not how it works in the field. There, you would cut bamboo with saws and see if the pieces stuck together.

*Yunus is from Istanbul, Turkey!


culture monica rex indonesia yunuscan sevimili

“If you’re trying to make a difference, you should start with the culture.”

M: How have your engineering classes prepared you for this project and where were they lacking?

Y: When I went there, I had taken senior design for a semester. In that semester, I learned how to use a lot of hand tools. For our first three years, we did a lot of learning engineering. But we just started doing engineering through this senior design project. This helped me learn how to make an actual prototype. My experiences from our hands on classes are what really helped me.

But it was also a culture shock. I don’t know if there was a way to be prepared for that.


M: What was so shocking about it?

Y: The way of thinking. For example, the people there thought, I cut my hands day after day, and so did my father and his father and his father… That’s just how it is, and you get used to it. We view these problems and say, “There has to be a better way. How could we solve this?”


M: What is the potential impact for your project?

Y: Obviously to improve people’s lives. This is going to become a business. We are doing this with local materials and tools, so that a local carpenter can make it and sell it to people. It’s going to improve the quality of life of people (no more cutting hands, respiratory problems). It will also will create awareness; most people didn’t even know they had respiratory problems.

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M: What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring engineers who want to make a difference in the developing world?

Y: There are a lot of things that are hard to calculate before you actually implement a solution. A lot of cultural considerations. Engineering done in a lab in Baltimore is barely applicable to a fisherman in East Java. Human interaction is the key to development. You could create the best technology and if it doesn’t fit into cultural norms there, it won’t help them.


How important do you think culture is in engineering considerations? If you could travel anywhere to engineer a project, where would you go?